Cooking from the Collections: New Orleans Style!

by Smithsonian Digital Library

Just in time for Fat Tuesday, our testers whip up some food with New Orleans flair: gumbo and sweet potato pone! Both come from The New Orleans Cookbook, published by folks that now seem like old friends to Cooking from the Collections, the "staff home economists" of the Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago.


2012-02-Gumbo.jpg  Left to right: Sweet Potato Pone, White Rice, Crab-Shrimp Gumbo. 


Crab-Shrimp Gumbo

This was a relatively easy dish to make. While it is not the traditional gumbo that one might expect, this was a tasty and filling dish that was well-received by my colleagues, wife, and two-year-old daughter. Since the recipe was published in the 1950s, I took a few liberties based on modern conveniences. For example, instead of preparing the shrimp separately, I used frozen cooked and peeled shrimp. I also replaced canned crab-meat with freshly-packaged crab meat. As far as flavor, one thing that surprised me about the finished product was that it was somewhat bland, which is not what one would expect of gumbo. As you can see from the ingredients list that the recipe went very light on the spices. I was left wondering if this was indicative of the time that the recipe was published. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that many Americans preferred their food, well…blander, back then. I had to do the other ingredients justice, so I ended up adding additional salt, ground pepper, thyme, parsley, and garlic. I also amended the recipe to include beef bouillon and white pepper. If I were to make this recipe again, I would also add additional cayenne pepper and chili powder. (This time I didn’t want to make it too spicy since I was feeding this to a large group!) I especially enjoyed cooking from a historic cookbook from SIL’s collection. This is a very fun way to literally make history come alive.


  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 tbs butter or margarine
  • 1/4 lb (about 1/2 cup) diced cooked ham
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 6 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 lb. okra (about 2 cups), washed and sliced.
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/8 tesp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp chopped parsley
  • 1/2 bay leaf, crushed
  • 6 1/2 oz crab meat
  • 1lb frozen cooked and peeled shrimp, thawed
  • Prepared white rice


  1. Heat butter in large heavy skillet over low heat. Add chopped onion, pepper and celery. Stir and add ham and garlic. Continue cooking over medium heat until onion is translucent.
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil and dip in tomatoes to loosen skins. Peel and cut, then toss in to skillet with okra.
  3. Add water and spices to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Pick crab meat for loose shells and add to skillet with shrimp. Cook for another 10 minutes or until okra is tender. Serve over rice.

Dave Opkins


Sweet Potato Pone

Nothing says New Orleans and Mardi Gras better than  Gumbo, King Cakes and  Sweet Potato Pone.  Yes, that's right -  Sweet Potato Pone, a dessert-like casserole made from sweet potatoes.  After about an hour my dish was crusty and brown along the edges but seemed a little runny in the middle so I turned the oven off and let it bake about 10 minutes more. It did get brown and crusty on the edges a little too brown it seemed.  This recipe makes a generous 6 servings.


  • 4 medium size sweet potatoes or yams (about 1 ½ lbs)
  • 2/3 cup of butter or margarine (I used unsalted butter.)
  • 1 teaspoon each of grated lemon and orange peel
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
  • 4 eggs well beaten
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup of molasses


  1. Grease a 1 ½ qt. baking dish. Heat water for boiling water bath.
  2. Wash, pare, cover sweet potatoes with cold salted water and set aside. (This is where is strayed a bit. I washed but did not pare the sweet potatoes.)
  3. Cream butter or margarine with salt and spices until softened.
  4. Gradually add brown sugar, creaming until fluffy after each addition
  5. Add eggs in thirds, beating thoroughly after each addition
  6. Stir in mixture of milk and molasses.  Set aside while grating sweet potatoes.
  7. Drain sweet potatoes and grate using medium size grater (about 5 cups, grated).
  8. Blend grated potatoes into liquid mixture. Turn into baking dish. Bake in boiling water bath at 350 degrees about 1 hour or until top is crusty and lightly browned.

Ninette Dean



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